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October 9, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 9, 2009 By Stacey Palevsky j. the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California Donald Fisher was walk- ing around the new Jewish Community Center of San Francisco in 2004 when a blank wall caught his eye. "This is a very white space," he said. "Why don't I give you a LeWitt?" And justlike that, the Gap founder, who had already given a $1 million gift to the JCCSF's capital Campaign, promised that an original painting by famous pop art- ist Sol LeWitt would adorn the wall. And that was that. After Fisher contacted him, LeWitt designed an image for the JCC, and in May 2005. his crew came to San Francisco and painted the wall. "What an incredibly gen- erous gift that is so much a part of our building now." said Lenore Naxon, then the development director and now the director of the JCCSF's Eugene and Elinor Friend Center for the Arts. Fisher. a major philanthro- pist and founder of the retail Donald Fisher giant that made jeans a true fashion statement, died Sept. 27 after a long battle with cancer. The third-generation San Franciscan was 81. "Don was one of the most generous people in our com- munity," said Warren Hell- man, a fellow philanthropist and childhood friend. The men knew each other "pretty much all our lives." Hellman said. and became close friends when they were students at San Francisco's , Lowell High School. "Don comes the" closest of anybody I know to being aman for all seasons," Hellman said. "He was a fantastic athlete, a very generous philanthropist and a tremendous family man :' In 1969, after a successful career as a real estate devel- oper, Fisher founded the Gap with hiswife, Doris, after they had a frustrating experience at a store while trying to exchange a pair of jeans that didn't fit. That year, the Fisti- ers raised $63.000 to launch a jeans and music store on Ocean Avenue in San Fran- cfsco called"the Gap" (named for "the generation gap"). Today, Gap Inc. includes such brands as Banana Repub- lic and Old Navy and operates 3,100 stores in the United States. the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Japan and Ireland. "He was a no-nonsense kind of person, which was probably why he was so successful in business he'd move the conversation to the heart of the matter fairly rapidly," said Rabbi Stephen Pearce of Congregation Emanu-E1, where Donald and Doris became'members in 1965. Each had attended Emanu-E1 as children. Although Fisher wasn't a regular synagogue attendee, Pearce said, "he was a strong supporter of the congrega- tion. He wanted to make sure it would be here for other people." Fisher was a longtime sup- porter of the San Francisco- based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and also gave much of his money to organizations and initiatives that supported public education and the arts. In 1977, the Fishers started the Gap Foundation to sup- . port the local communities where Gap Inc. does business. The foundation focuses on nonprofits that help under- served youth irt developed countries learn the skills needed to build a career and a future, and women in develop- ing countries build critical life and work skills. The Fishers were charter funders of and continue to support the KIPP charter schools, a national network of free. open-enrollment. c011ege-preparatory public schools in underserved com- munities. KIPP stands for the Knowledge is Power Program. Over the years, the Fishers gave $100 million to KIPP and to Teach for America. Fisher also loved art. ~He commissioned "Cupid's Span," the 60-foot-high San Francisco sculpture of a red and yellow bow and arrow by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. It has stood on the Embarcadero since 2002. "He had an eye for beauty," Pearce said. Most recently, just before Fisher died, he and his wife agreed to give their 1,100-piece collection of contemporary art (valued by one expert to be worth nearly $1 billion) to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A section of the Fisher Collection will be part of a MOMA exhibit scheduled to open next summer. "He h~d one of the great, if not the greatest, privately owned modern art collections in the country," Hellman said. "It is the ultimate chari- table act that he has given it to the Museum of Modern Art." The Fishers' children grew up involved in the JCCSF's sports programs, and several of their grandchildren also participated in JCC sports. In fact, when Donald Fisher got his first tour of the new JCCSF--the one that led to the LeWitt painting--he was there to attend his grandson's basketball game. The Fishers were one of about 30 individuals and foundations to donate $1 mil- lion or more to the JCCSF's $83 million capital campaign. The Fishers' gift gave them the naming rights for the second-largest public space in thebuilding, which is now called the Fisher Family Hall. Fisher is survived by his wife, Doris; sons Bill, John and Bob; and 10 grandchil- dren. He is also survived by two brothers. Jim and Bob Fisher. Memorial services were private. In lieu of flowers. the family asks that dona- tions be made to the KIPP Foundation, 135 Main St.. Suite 1700, San Francisco. CA 94105; and the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco,, 55 Hawthorne St.. Suite 600. San Francisco. CA 94105. .1 By Naomi Pfefferman Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles Alfred Uhry swept though a corridor backstage at the Mark Taper Forum last week. greeting actors dressed in early 20th century garb with a robust "Shalom. y'all!" The Southern Jewish playwright was on hand to offer advice and answer questions for the cast of "Parade." the musical about the anti-Semitic lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia in 1913. which failed on Broadway but was later revised for a London production that made its United States premiere at the Taper on Oct. 4. The author regarded the backstage action like a proud parent during this technical rehearsal, as T.R. Knight, who is playing Frank in his first role since leaving "Grey's Anatomy," tried out the Brooklyn accent he is perfecting for the show. "'Parade' has a deeper meaning for me than any- thing else I've ever done." Uhry said. settling onto a couch in a dressing room. "] always hoped that it would be revived, but I wasn't sure that I would live to see it." Uhry's Southern Jewish roots go deep. His German Jewish forbears settled in the environs of Atlanta in the early 1800s. "They were staunch Confederates," he said. "My grandmother even had an uncle who was a blockade runner during the Civil War, like Rhett Butler." Butwhen Leo Frank--who managed a pencil factory owned by Uhry's great-un- cle-was wrongly accused of murdering a teenaged em- ployee and lynched, the family was reminded of their pariah status as Jews in the South. "Lucille Frank used to play Canastawith my g~andmoth- er," Uhry said. "My mother said she would always sign her checks 'Mrs. Leo M. Frank' ... But whenever anybody men- tioned the Frank case, certain Craig Schwartz T.R. Knight and Lara Pulver (center) at the Mark Taper Forum in "Parade." members of the older genera- tion just got up and walked out Of the room. I wanted to know why, but my mother was alwaysvery evasive. So as soon as I was old enough, I got on thebus~, went to the library by myself, and looked it up. After that. I always knew that the Frank case was theatrical, and I hoped I'd be able to write a play about it ono day." In 1998, Uhry's musical about the trial and murder of Leo Frank. "Parade." pre- miered at Lincoln Center. with music and lyrics by the then 24 -year-old wunderkind Jason Robert Brown. It was the latest of Uhry's plays, including "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." to revolve around Jews trying desperately to assimilate in the South. But the production closed after only 84 performances in February 1998, just a month before Uhry and Brown took home Tony Awards for the musical. The failure of the show, as well as some poor reviews including one from The New York Times--greatly disappointed its creators. Then. several years ago, unexpected news came from Rob Asbford, who had served as the show's assistant chore- ographer and dance captain. He had been offered a chance to direct at the prestigious Donmar Warehouse in Lon- don, and the theater's artistic director had been enthusiastic when he suggested creating a revised version of "Parade." The piece resonated with Ashford. in part, because of his own Southern upbringing in West Virginia--in his case. as a Baptist. Uhry said he and Brownre- vised at least 20 percent of the show. The first challenge was adapting the massive produc- tion for the 250-seat Donmar: the castwas cut from 36 actors to 15, and the orchestra from 20 to nine musicians. "We needed to come up with a chamber version of the show." Brown said. "We reconceived if so that it made sense on an intimate scale, rather than sounding like we were apolo- gizing for not having more people onstage.'" A superfluous ballad and at least one other major number was cut from the show, and a new character was added: Minnie McKnight, an African American who had worked as Lucille Frank's maid, who is virtually forced to testify against Leo in the first act but retracts her statements in the second. The setwas redesigned with two tiers to maximize space; and a faded mural embellished with antebellum scenes dominated center stage, like a peeling billboard. which at times would light up as characters from the past came to life. Most importantly, the re- vised bqok and several new songs zeroed in more precisely on the developing relationship between Leo and Lucille, even as his lynching loomed. "I kept the influence of the minimal- ists, of Charles Ives. and the sense of ostenati, repeating themes, which indicate a marching toward something, an unrelenting ticking of the clock;" Brown said. Uhry said he hoped to im- prove on the original produc- tion, "which didn't have quite the clement of understand- ing the Southern character I'd wanted. You didn't really understand why these people acted as they did, and why they were still so embittered and angry about what had happened to them during the Civil War." The rewriting reflected this dangerous atmosphere for the Cornell-educated, Brooklyn- bred Frank; it also explained why violence had erupted after condescending Yankee report- ers desaended upon the trial. This intimate new version of "Parade" opened to excel- lent reviews in London. and arrived at the Taper virtually intact save for the cast. Outside Uhry's dressing room, Knight wears sus- penders and brown contact lenses to play Frank. whose bespectacled photograph is embossed on the cover of his script. "Often when you have a tragic tale involving a real ,person, it's easy to canonize the character. But this piece didn't do that," he said of why he was drawn to "Parade." "The piece veers away from melodrama Leo is presented as flawed, as everyone is. And while certain things detailed aren't exactly how things really happened, there is a respect for the truth in the piece that is compelling." Brown, who is now 39. is also present for rehearsals: "I love being part of this show." he said. He met his wife. Georgia. during a tour of the original production and the couple's 2-year-old daughter was on hand as Brown reworked the lliece in London. "When I got hired to do the original ver- sion, I hadn't written a single thing, but [the show's original director] Hal Prince had faith in me. So this prickly Jew in his 20s was suddenly thrown into a world that wasn't his own. That was exactly the Leo Frank story, and I thought, 'I get who this guy is....It's my hope that for the rest of my life I'll get to peek in on 'Parade' from time to time." 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